Health + Humanities
Connection. Reflection. Caring.

Why health and humanities?
Over the past half a century, we've undergone a deep shift in how we experience being ill and caring for those who are ill.

Medical treatment today involves more sophisticated tests and diagnoses, substantially more prescriptions, and greater focus on invasive and extreme treatments. As a result, people are living longer. Yet many patients, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners feel a decreased sense of well-being.

Why have all the measurable medical advances we've made resulted in this sense of loss? And how can the humanities help?
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners choose their careers because they want to do meaningful work. For patients and their families, illness—especially chronic disease, terminal disease, and the end-of-life—are emotionally as well as physically profound experiences. But much of the practice of medicine today feels like a series of technical procedures, devoid of human caring, without opportunity for connection or reflection. That's why the humanities, which are the way we make meaning of the world and our experiences in it, should be integrated into medical education and healthcare delivery.

What do the humanities do?
Using approaches and content from the humanities (literature, art, history, philosophy, anthropology, and related fields) improves our understanding of health, sickness, and treatment. Incorporating humanities approaches and content can change the way we practice medicine. It transforms our experiences as patients and caregivers. And it increases our well-being.

Read about how the humanities transformed one physician's understanding of his own terminal illness, and what that could mean for saving doctors and patients. The Hidden Dying of Doctors: What Humanities Can Teach Medicine, and Why We All Need Medicine to Learn It


Lois Leveen, PhD is a Kienle Scholar in Medical Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. She recently led workshops or presented research at the International Conference on Physician Health, co-sponsored by the American Medical Association (AMA), British Medical Association (BMA), and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA); the Health Humanities Consortium Conference; the Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative; and the MedX Conference at Stanford.

Dr. Leveen is a novelist, poet, scholar, and teacher. She holds degrees from Harvard University, the University of Southern California, and UCLA.  A former faculty member at UCLA and Reed College, she is a frequent guest speaker and workshop leader at museums, libraries, high schools, colleges and universities, and teacher training programs across North America. Her work in the public humanities focuses on how content and approaches from literary studies, history, the visual arts, and related fields can foster greater reflection for individuals and deeper bonds of community among practitioners, patients, and families. She has been published in/on The New York Times, the Atlantic, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Huffington Post, NPR, and C-SPAN.

Read More on the Humanities for Health blog.